Here I am wondering why this has taken me for so long. Why only now I´m finally finishing writing about this lens which I have had already for a month. Maybe I got a bit disillusioned with it as I was expecting too much? After all this lens turned only to be an extremely sharp and contrasty macro lens which focuses up to 1:1 AND focused lightning fast from infinity to 19cm (1:1) AND was water proof during many hours in the rain (walking the dog, you know) AND costed just 499€. So what more was I expecting? Maybe I merely wished it to beat Olympus Zuiko D. 50mm Macro as an allround lens. Which it didn´t. It only is a better macro lens. Which actually is quite a lot.
All the exact specs of this lens can be found at Olympus´ web sites. I won´t repeat them here, just a few notions. First of all this lens is light but feels solid and well built. It has internal focusing, which means that its length stays the same always. This is very good for close up and macro photography. Internal focusing is engineered with three lens groups which move relative to each other and, of course, relative to fixed lenses and groups. According to Olympus this their most complex internal focusing system. The reason for this comes of course from the huge task of being able to produce sharp images as well at infinity as at the highest magnification ratio of 1:1. Auto focusing is silent and instantaneous regardless of magnification.
Magnification ratio of 1:1 means that you can shoot e.g. a 1cm long object and it is produced as 1cm long image on the camera sensor. If you make an A4 print (longer edge c. 30cm), then this object would be about 17cm long on print, depending on how you crop the image.
Like a good macro lens should, this lens is provided with focusing limiters. You can limit auto focusing to ranges 0.19m - ∞, 0.4m - ∞, 0.19m - 0.4m or have the lens fixed at 1:1 magnification which means focusing distance of 19cm.
Filter thread is 46mm. Olympus has a bayonet type lens hood (LH-49) for this lens, which sadly is not included with the lens. This lens hood is very handy as it can be pulled over the lens barrel for transportation to keep the length of this combination the same as lens alone. I have seen and tried this lens hood but did not have one during testing the lens. Anyway it is a must have accessory and Olympus should include one with this lens.
To see where I got stuck with my strange disillusionment, let´s start with some quite ordinary photos:
This is a lens which focuses really fast. While my subject has some blur from turning his head, the image still has nice sharpness. Wide open, f/2.8, 1/160s at ISO 200. This image was shot with OM-D like all the other photos in this blog. All images were exposed as RAW files and converted into jpegs in Lightroom 4.1. All crops are 100% with one image pixel correspondin to one pixel on screen.
Another quick street shot. Again wide open, 1/125s at ISO 200.
iPads seem to have central shutters. The Louvre, wide open, 1/125 s at ISO 640.
Moody sunset, and again wide open, 1/125s at ISO 400.
This image is shot through a thick security window and it actually is a panorama of two frames. Here the aperture is at f/4, 1/320s at ISO 200.
These shots above show that 60mm Macro lens has excellent sharpness and contrast already wide open in central image area.
60mm Macro lens has also very nice and peaceful bokeh. These two images above are of course shot wide open.
Another test showed that shooting against bright lights is no problem. Some reflections, yes, but if you think about shooting against those lights while the rest of scene is very dark (f/2.8, 1/125s at ISO 5000), the result is very acceptable. At least for me.
The list of goodness goes on: This new 60mm lens does not suffer (while working with Lightroom 4) from distortions or fringing. There is very little chromatic aberration and it gets easily corrected by checking Lightroom´s Remove Chromatic Aberration feature. So, what an earth was wrong for me?
Test target with reference lens
It is easist to show by putting the 60mm lens against the very good FT Zuiko D. 50mm f/2 Macro lens in a controlled situation. The latter lens can be seen as a reference lens for other lenses. In whole mFT world there is only one lens that beats it, the M. Zuiko 75mm f/1.8.
Here´s the results of image center:
As can be seen 60mm lens is slightly better at f/2.8 but loses to 50mm starting from f/5.6. Now, come on! Actually there is no real difference between these lenses, the central image area is superb with both lenses until difraction hits. In these crops I have normalized contrast and other factors to show sharpness, but actually 60mm lens has better contrast than 50mm lens, whose contrast is relatively low by latest standard.
So, it as not there. Then, how about the edges? Here it comes:
Here´s why I started this blog with a negative remark. 60mm Macro is not as brilliant as an allround lens as the 50mm Macro is. Corners are weaker at normal shooting distances. Again, I must emphasize that this target is very harsh and these differencies are not seen this well in everyday photography. But I am picky. Olympus´ both short mFT teles, the 45mm f/1.8 and the 75mm f/1.8, are also better in the corners but you can´t see any real difference between all these four lenses in the center. So this new 60 mm Macro lens is not perfect for brick walls and landscapes, but it would make an excellent portrait lens. I tend to use image edges quite actively in my photography, that´s why I became worried about edge performance from the very start. Now, this is enough for general photography, we are speaking here about a macro lens, after all!
Shooting lenses against each other close up
This image is shot at the closest range of the FT Zuiko D. 50mm Macro lens. This means magnification ratio of 1:2. And then, of course, I shot this watch also with the new 60mm lens. Ideally there should not be anything else to do than change the lens. Right? No. Those who say now that the 60mm lens would give a narrower field of view are simply wrong. I had the same assuption, and was wrong too. Actually at this magnification the 60mm Macro has a wider field of view than the 50mm Macro. Macro (and most other) lenses do not have the same focal length (or field of view) throughout the whole focusing range. The nominal focal length is actually true only when the lens is focused at infinity. With these lenses it happens that the 50mm Macro gets "longer" faster than the 60mm Macro, while going closer to the subject. So, I had to do some field of view adjustments into the very direction I was not prepared to do while setting up my stuff. That´s why I was not finally sure if the angle of watch relative to camera was exactly the same for both lenses. Very minor differencies can lead here into wrong results and opinions. I was too lazy to start all over from the start and that´s why I will show here only crops from the exact focusing point, which for both lenses was the center of number 6.
Interestingly, we see here the very same behaviour as earlier, only now the new 60 mm lens is sharper than the 50mm lens for almost over all of the best aperture range. As said, I have no head to head comparison images to show but in macro area this is actually true over the whole image, not just central area. Beyond f/8 diffraction hits both lenses and again the 60mm lens suffers more and faster.
The whole image area: digitizing slides
Digitizing slides and negatives is one application I had envisaged for this 60 mm Macro lens. I have owned several scanners from drum scanners through Imacon (later Hasseblad) Flextight to Nikon 4000 ED. Of these, only the Nikon with its automatic feeder for up to 50 framed color slides is practical for scanning any larger amount of slides. It also has quite good quality especially with multisampling and it is the best of all slide scanners together with its slightly improved successor, the 5000 ED. Present flatbed scanners are not good enough for scanning 35mm film, not for me at least. As those Nikon scanners have their definitive weak points, I have also tried, as an alternative, to digitize 35mm film material with Canon EOS 5D MkII. I have used both EF 50mm f/2.5 Macro lens with Life-Size Converter and 100mm f/2.8 Macro lens, both with a slide copying attachment. Results were at the same level as with Nikon 4000 ED scanner. Only the thick low pass filter of 5D mkII plus its weak exposure system made it difficult to achieve a really snappy look and fast workflow. Now, during the past weeks, I have tested quite thoroughly the same with the 60mm macro lens and OM-D.
This image was digitized by shooting a frame of Kodak Ektachrome 35mm color slide film. With the 60mm Macro lens you can go up to 1:1 which means that you can (and then actually need to) capture the 35 mm color slide as four quadrants. Here I did not go quite up to 100% but settled for a somewhat lesser magnification to get some overlapping edges for these four quadrants to make it easier to compose the image back together. What I did was simply to import the four RAW files into Lightroom, choose them and use the command Photo > Edit In > Merge to Panorama in Photoshop. The rest is automatic and you only need to crop the final image in Photoshop or Lightroom. With my ETTR method I do not need to do any bracketing, everything is quite straightforward, absolutely fool proof and, most of all, very fast. The size of this digitized image is circa 7700 x 5050 pixels and, believe me, it has more potential resolution than can be found in any 35mm color film frame. The crop is a 100% detail from the landing gear. It is here slightly over sharpened to better show the quality of grain. Namely, that´s film grain, not camera noise, and it tells how sharp this capture is. (It´s a wholly another matter if the image on slide was sharp or not!) You simply can not get any details beyond film grain. I also applied some color noise reduction to make grain even more uniform. This quality is better than any slide scanner can produce and better than I could or can achieve with EOS 5D MkII. Of course I can also shoot 35mm slides at 1:2 magnification and get the slide as one capture. And still it turned out that the detail is at the same or better level as with my former scans and captures.
One benefit with this system compared to the 4000 ED is that it does not need, like Nikon scanner does, the very best slide frames to keep the film absolutely flat. Which frames, by the way, are teethed Bonum frames and they have not been made any more for several years. With the Nikon scanner you do not get sharp grain over the whole image area if film is not flat. With macro lens you get plenty of DOF (well, compared to scanners, at least) and you can use pretty much any cheap plastic frames, like I had here in this test image. These specific frames have actually proven to be absolutely unusable for scanning with 4000ED. Of course, the flatter the film is while capturing, the higher the absolute quality is also here. While there is no free lunches, there is at least some latitude instead of just frustration.
For me these tests were the final proof for M. Zuiko 60mm Macro being the tool for me. While testing I was impressed by the very flat image plane, high level of sharpness and contrast over the whole image area, just slightly darker corners with slightly less sharpness, no distortion or fringing to speak of, only a slight chromatic aberration... Not perfect but really good. The sweet aperture range regarding image quality in macro area is from f/4 to f/5.6. I settled to use f/5 as the peak aperture after my tests. Peak here does not really mean anything too obvious as f/5 is not that different from the rest inside the mentioned sweet range. It only happened to be the aperture I found out choosing almost always from my final 4 x 100+ sweet range test captures.
A few more close ups
Although I have done lots and lots of product photography down to the size of jewelry, macro photography is not one of my hobbies. Still I love to do some nature details with extremely shallow DOF from time to time. Here are some more sharpness vs. bokeh test shots with this 60mm Macro lens. They should be quite self explanatory.
f/4.0, 1/1600s, ISO 200
f/3.5, 1/160s, ISO 200
f/3.5, 1/160s, ISO 400
M. Zuiko 60mm f/2.8 Macro is a great macro lens. Small, light, splash proof and has very fast and silent internal focusing with focus limiters. As a macro lens, it is actually difficult to find any negative things to say about it. Sharpness and contrast are at very high level. RAW images opened into Lightroom 4 do not suffer from distortions or fringing and CA is a non-issue. I have not compared this lens head to head with other macro lenses than Zuiko D. 50mm f/2 Macro lens and after this test I have no need or interest to. I already ordered one.
As a lens for general photography it is better than any Olympus mFT zoom which has the same focal length. But it also is not as good as Zuiko M. 45mm f/1.8 or 75mm f/1.8. While it has practically no vices, it still falls somewhere between those two groups because of its weaker corners. But at the same time there are genres like portraiture where there would be no difference in image quality compared to the best mFT/FT lenses.